>> taylor branch presents his thoughts on key moments of civil rights movement. this is about an hour and 15 minutes. >> thank you, mr. hale. thank you atlanta history center. i've been here before. i'm glad to be back, and i'm glad to be back talking about something that's been a subject that's been dear to me for my whole life, and it's inescapable now that i'm getting older that it is by life's work, and i'm glad for it. this is another round. i'm going to take more questions
tonight than i normally do. i'll say provocative things about why this history is significant and about this project, itself, which is a little odd to spend 24 years writing a 2300-page trilogy and come out a few years later with a 190-page book. a lot of people who road the other ones think it's not true that somebody else wrote it, that i'm not capable of writing something this brief. [laughter] i assure you that i did. there is blood on the floor of my office because it involved eliminating or at least setting aside 95% of what i worked so hard to produce, and in the interest of finding the most salient parts in the original language a moment to reintroduce
in a more compact form the major elements, losing large number of characters dear to me, and i will deny that i'm curious myself people who read the whole trilogy -- i get notes all the time from people saying they read the trilogy every year, and i'm very grateful for that. that's an amazing thing. most books out of the store six months or less, and these are still around after 20-something years. this is the digital age with millions of americans who will not pick up even a story telling books that involves people personally if it's more than 8000 pages long, which my books are. when my publisher came to me with the challenge to try to have a compact version making selections, number one, hard enough, but then writing new
material to summarize what was left out and drop you into each story to give people a sense of the full sweep of an extraordinary transformational era. i accepted it for two reasons, the challenge. number one, teachers over the years have complained to me that their students relate to story telling, particularly in understanding race relations, that most of what happens for discussions of race relations in the united states is argument, and argument is people just making themselves feel good while pretending to discover something, and taking some sort of morally unassailable point of view and defending it with new labels and new words. we are trained in the west to think that analytical words command detail, but, largely, in race relations it's fool's gold, and the way we learn is when
things are really personal. teacher said that their students related to the personal stories in my book, but that they couldn't assign an 800-page book to a high school student, and even a lot of college students, and quite frankly, two years ago, i went for a foundation in new york which makes teaching aids available to teachers to teach american history. they sent me to idaho, of all places, to talk to high school history challenges to talk about the challenges teaching american history, particularly, civil rights history, and i don't know how many of you went to idaho, but i went reluctantly. there's few black people in idaho, and i didn't know anybody was interested in it. i was thrilled on the one hand they were intensely interested and said something that's obvious, which is something that i always say. they already knew it. they said, this is not just race
relations. this is about fairness. this is about citizenship. this is about stuff that's broad. we want to be able to teach this material, but here's the way it is, taylor. sunday night in idaho, i'm cooking dinner for my kids, and with one hand i'm googling the internet in a desperate hope i can find something that has enough story telling in it that i can present it to my kids in the free or four days we get to try to communicate the civil rights movement. our textbooks are oatmeal. they are arguments with dates all in them, deliberately trying to make this history inaccessible. have i lost my mic? [laughter] i didn't do anything. the institute may not be popular here, but it's a good organization. [laughter] i don't think it deserves -- okay, there. we've apologized to them.
anyway, these system teachers in idaho said what you don't realize is that we're on the low end of the totem pole if you're a history teacher. schools in the united states are now evaluated by test scores for students in english and math, not in history. if you're a good history teacher and your principal is suggesting you might do well to teach english because the school is not evaluated on history. without a sense of american history, it's impossible to teach citizenship, which also has been wiped out of our curriculum. so they say our schools are not built to teach history. if it's the essence of citizenship, we're not teaching citizens, if we believe citizens are responsible for their own government, we par riel our own republic. we're in the low end of the
funding scale because most of the budgetary priority goes to the other subjects. our textbooks are not very good to begin with. please do something because as much as we love the story telling in your american trilogy, we can't assign it to our kids, and most of our kids are getting their materials now on ipads. that sort of thing anyhow, and if there were material put in a form that we could use, we could bypass the whole textbook business, and we could engage our students, and we could have a great leap forward. i met a lot of these teachers, and it really occurred to me they were telling me the same thing for years. story telling is critical in race, but it has to be done in a way that's paletteble to the students, and we can't blame the
students for not learning history. if we don't teach it to them, we can't blame them for not learning it. if i believe as i do, and i'll explain very briefly why i believe a sense of american history is not easy to get, but vital to have, then it's worth every bit of effort we can make to try to make it easy for the teacher who are our primary conduits of how did our republic get here, and how do we preserve and improve it? so, one was teachers that made me accept this challenge from my publisher. the other was a growing sense of frustration, and i'll just give you a few senses of this, and then take questions. frustration that we are fundamentally out of balance in our historical understanding of
the last 50 years. that our own conscious determines what we are receptive to a degree that is greater than we realize and blocked a real appreciation for the challenge, the privilege, the uplift, the potential, the intellectual content of this era has been pigoen-holed in so many respects to make it less meaningful in our every day lives across the line that divide us than it should be so i thought what really got me with the publishers was the idea of condensing the 2300 pages into less than 200 gives me the opportunity to pick the things that i think are the most sail yept from the full sweep of the civil rights era defined from 64-68, the peak years from the
brown decision to the death of dr. king, just as a matter of coincidence, 5 # 4 is the year dr. king took his first church. he started his career -- he had a short career. he was only 39 when he was killed, and a short career matches those 14 years, that if i could find 18 moments that i thought communicated the full sweep that it would serve not only as an introduction to new generation of young people in the digital age, and, possibly, i hoped to a heck of a lot of older people who don't really like 800 page books and that some of the people who told complain to me about their aching collarbones and various thanks on airplanes from my books that they probably didn't finish the books either, and i'm much more likely to get through a 190-page version, but that in so doing, i could concentrate what i think are the
essential lessons in a way that would make people begin to come out of this pervasive sense of amnesia or -- or stunted perception. what i really call it is failed memory, faulty memory, misremembering, which is part of history, and it's a dangerous part of history that's in the e. i agreed to do it. it is novel. it's a novel task to take your own work, redo it, try to rework it so that some of the lessons come out and preserve the integrity of the stories originally done. it is so novel that they got a -- it's an e-book now. they have a young actor who is on "smash" reading the audio version, the only complete audio version i had done. usually, the books are so fat they read 10% of them in the abridged position, but this is
the full thing read bylesslie odom, jr., and the really new thing to me is that they are e-books, they are now, going on nooks and kindles, i hope for students, but now they have one called enhanced e-book, and i have not even seen this because i don't own a device that would be able to -- you have to have an ipad. i don't have an ipad or a nook, and i've only seen it on my son's ipad briefly, but what an enhanced e-book is you read a chapter, and there's a demonstration occurring, a little thing there saying, if you click here, you can see news footage of the demonstration described in the text, and you click this, and on your computer, you see it. there's a passage about the importance of music in the civil rights movement.
it says click here and here, louis ferris of the singers lead a freedom workshop singing "this little light of mine" in 1954, and you click it, you hear it, and when you do, you won't forget it and you'll understand the peculiar power of that music, or in a passage saying martin luther king called johnson nor vows -- nervous as hell, and it was going to be undermind by the vietnam war, and i describe the conversation, the nerve, and how it happened. you can hear martin luther king talk to him on the tfn. this is an enhanced e-book. i have no idea what the market is for it. the publisher doesn't know. there's a lot of panic in the book business these days, but i'm glad they did it. this is novel. it would have taken them a
hundred years in a healthy book economy to get around to something as novel as an enhanced e-book, and now they are doing it. i don't know how it will work. tomorrow, in baltimore, i'm teaching a seminar built around the short book. i taught it before at other schools, at chapel hill last spring communitying from baltimore. this time it's different in two respects. it's built around the shorter books with readings from the other books too with a seminar in front of me, and i'll have people online from all over the country, and even outside the country around the world auditing this class in the check for whether or not we can use the same technology that will create an enhanced e-book, but use that technology to invite large numbers of of students --
numbers of students to use the web. there's a lot of newfangled items going on about how this is presented that i am struggling to catch up with myself. i now -- they instructed me how to tweet and twitter and facebook and all the other things, but like the enhanced e-book, i can't do because i don't have an ipad, but i believe in the possibility of immediacy here, and that if you're trying to tell a legitimate story important from history, you need to take every resource, every chance you can to make connections. that's the novelty side of what i'm presenting here. i'm interested in what you guys think of this, even the notion of repeating some stories or using some of the language. i kind of stitched things together in these stories. let me talk a little bit about misremembering and our imbalance
sense of history, the urgency that i think lies in this subject, why i want to do it, take this risk to make another connection with you. we had inauguration this week. barack obama, january 19, 2013. this very month is full of epic anniversary, regarding race and american history. it's 150 years ago since the emancipation proclamation by lincoln which is now popularized in the story of the 13th amendment just two januaries later in 1865 in the spielberg film nominated for the academy award. we're getting a sense of that history. more pert innocent for us, 150
years, 2013, to get a sense of how tricky this history has been, i want you to think about the 50-year anniversary. fifty years ago this january, in january 1963, i was getting my driver's license. that was a big deal. martin luther king was resolved to go into birmingham. this month, he decided, and he didn't tell his father or tell his board members because he knew they would try to stop him. what he said was, after eight years since the brown decision, the forces defending segregation mobilized across the segregated states than the forces of freedom, and we're about to lose our window in history, and if i don't take the more risk that i have the way these students take risk, because he was meek among civil rights leaders saying the
students were ahead of him willing to risk more, not a deeper understanding, but willing to accept more risk in the freedom rides and sit ins than he was. he was a reluctant witness, but he knew because of his ability, he said, human nature is stubborn enough there's certain things for which words alone are not powerful enough to change human beings. you have to amplify it with sacrifice, with witness, and these young students are actually pioneers in history and in politics. in january 63, he said for the first time, i am going to risk my life, and he designed this plan to go into birmingham that later had such a big impact on me. by may, he designed it, worked on it, january, february, march, started the demonstrations, april, wrote a letter from birmingham jail, nobody paid a tinker bit of attention to it.
the letter from birmingham jail was not established anywhere in the united states. it had no effect. he was about to withdraw from birmingham in a close sal failure when he was talked into one of the grandest risks in politics ever says don't retreat until you invite high school students, junior high school students, and elementary school students to demonstrate in birmingham. there was debates in birmingham whether he lost his sanity to lose a campaign like this to create such attention. he was contribute side -- criticized of everybody from kennedy on down. these are untimely, don't pay attention. he took the supreme risk letting children to march issue and there was the fire hoses released, the tipping point for the united states. until that point, people, including myself and 5 lot of
our elders, said the race issue is troublesome, and segregation is wrong, but it's somebody else's job to do something about it, and i might write a petition, or in may case, wait until i'm old and secure at 30 and do something about it, and i turn around, and there's 8-year-old girls marching into dogs and fire hoses in birmingham, and it really broke the emotional distance that most people had. that's 1963. we are coming up for the next five years on a series of amazing anniversaries from 50 years ago which -- and the history is but a blipping, and what i hope the march of these anniversaries will do is to somehow bring america's appreciation for the meaning of the history for our future, not just for our past, more into alignment with its true impact
on history, and to help you understand what i mean by this, think of one other things from 150 years ago this month, january, 1963, george wallace took office of governor alabama in a speech and inaugust rail address famously denounced defending segregation today, tomorrow, and segregation forever. he was speaking for a cast system that was pervasive, not only in the laws and in the state constitutions of all the southern states, but in many institutions and cultural institutions across the whole country of separation. this was separation strictly by race is what the segregation was about. young black people couldn't go into libraries under law, and then he went to jail trying to got to the library. in birmingham, you couldn't play checkers with perp of a different race in public.
in the freedom rides, of course, people went to prison in mississippi for riding on a bus seated next to somebody of a different race. segregation was pervasive beyond what we think, but when you stop and think about it, it was pervasive in things far beyond race. there were no women at yale. there were no women at the university of north carolina except nursing students by state law. when i was there, student body was 95% male. there was no female students at the university of virginia, any race, no black students either, but no females. most professions were closed. the idea of women at west point was beyond the imagination of the most visionary liberal, and, of course, the word "gay" was not invented. it was criminal behavior in all the states and it was known as the practice that dare not speak its name. beyond that, there were no seat
belts in automobiles because people said that was socialism, and when you turned on the television, most -- many of the shows were sponsored by the major cigarette companies showing people being healthy, outdoors, and sophisticated smoking. that's 1953, that's 50 years ago in a blink. no women in the clergy, nothing like that. george wallace pledges to defend segregation forever. obviously, he failed. when he failed, and the dam break on segregation on the strength of the witness of those little kids who went to jail in birmingham, it broke not just black people, but it broke for the disabled, it broke for the elderly, for women across the span. at that point, almost 2,000
years of judaism, and never in history a female rabbi or female cantor. that was considered a ridiculous notion. within just a few short years of the time that the civil rights movement got people struggling over what equal soles and equal votes means, really done to its core, the first female rabbi was ordained, and now nobody thinks anything it. there's female rabbis and cantors all over the place, and the first one was a veteran of the civil rights movement who went on demonstrations, struggle within herself about what racial separation met, and not in the south, so that what i'm saying is that as dr. king said, the freedom movement set lose the widest liberation in human history far beyond strictly speaking the racial cast systems
that were deeply embedded in the southern states, and it did that, and all around here, this audience, when i was 16 years old, this audience was what mixed race we have here, would have had all of our palms suitey because we'd be worried about the ramifications of sitting here with these different people. if the clan was not after us or the police, but that somebody would see us here, who would report it to his father who would lose customers because word got out. it's never about anybody else, but me. it imprisoned everyone in a circle of fear, and every breath you take is lifted by the fact that reality is no longer there, but those are the things we take for granted. those are the things we take for granted, not just across racial relations, but in the fact that we are the sun belt now.
we have professional sports teams in the soit that we couldn't have when we were segregated. my dear mayor ivan allen said as soon as the bill was passed, atlanta built a stadium for a team they didn't have, on ground they didn't have, and it got the braves to move here and become the first professional sports team in the south. dr. king said that when negroes, the term then, liberated themselves from segregation because it was right and because it we want to the core premises of equal soles and equal votes to the core of the constitution and the core of the scriptures, it would liberate, and psychologically, economically, and so many other ways so the question that i want to pose to you is the same question that drove me to say let's -- the
second reason beyond the teachers, let's do this, try to make it salient, to get people to address the question of why is there such a tremendous disconnect between the broad liberation that's been -- that losed across the land at relatively low cost historically. people suffered, there were many martyrs, and there was a lot of psychic damage, but for the amount of social changed produced, it was remarkably civilized. lots and lots of other people, and, yet, in our public discourse today, we still think of public interchange, we have a largely cynical view, the dominant idea in politics in 50 years is government is bad, at least directed towards the purposes of the civil rights
movement. if i'm right that we're that out of phase, and my illustration for it -- i'll give you two illustrations why i think it's so pervasive. number one, george wallace, the same man who said segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever, failed to protect segregation by race or in any of the other allied systems of sub subjectcation. we're not looking for the other area les, like the immigration act of 1965. that overturned a century and a half of exclusions for legal immigrants, people eligible for naturalized citizenship were strictly, strictly limited to the nations of northern europe primarily.
it was done on a racial base. all of asia and africa excluded, and in 1965, as soon as lyndon johnson got the voting rights through, he went right into congress and said, i got them on their backs now; we've got to open up the world. he repealed the national origins agent, which was basically a racial hierarchy reserving 8 # 0% of legal -- 80% of legal immigration of people to become citizens of three countries, england, ireland, and germany. he repealed that in replace of a first come, first serve country, went to the statue of liberty, signed it, and said never again with the barriers of prejudice and privilege shadow gates to freedom, first come, first serve, and unconsciously over -- not quite 50 years since then, we have communities from all
over the world. if you go to a naturalization ceremony, it's one of the most inspiring things you'll ever see. we have korean communities. we have syria communities. we have people from all over the world, all of whom are americans. there's no foreigner too foreign to become a fellow citizen. we are not only the pioneer democracy in the world in building our constitution around and idea, but we are the only one that's really followed through on that saying because this idea is an idea that we're feel low -- fellow citizens in the laboratory, in the experiment of government, that all of us are in this together in the sliping world, and in the long run, how we relate to korean communities, indonesia communities, and ul of that is a strength for us. that bill was passed in 1965, and i guarantee you not one person in a hundred who studies the civil rights movement understands that it is a third
pillar, the voting rights act of 65, to build a structure that in the long run will be a great, not only strength for america, but a great inspiration, not because diversity is nice, but because diversity is essential in a world that'sstringing, and you have -- that's shrinks, and you have to learn to get along with each other. we are unconscious to the things that are consequences of the freedoms set in motion by this movement that struggles for eight years like dr. king said saying wii not there yet. we have to take more risks. we have to go to jail, and he finally ended segregation, gets the nobel prize, and his staff says let's have chicken dinners on the nobel prize for 20 years, and he said, no, we have to go to selma next week, and he's
back in jail. the mountain top is nice, but the valley calls me. that witness, we're blessed by it, but we're unconscious of it. the example by it, the example i want to give you as to how great, i think, the disconnect is is that george wallace who made the speech? 1963 -- made that speech in 1963 could not prevent the tide coming for all of us. if you have a daughter, and you want your daughter to have the whole world open to her, you're daughter and your hopes stand on the shoulders of the civil rights movement. i don't care who you are. all of this happened, but george wallace, while he could not prevent it, was a genius in politics in inventing the phrases that are chillingly contemporary, even today, that when it no longer was respectable to defend segregation, he made it
respectable to cuss the process and to play to the fears and the resentments of the process as it was let loose saying that pointy headed bureaucrats were telling us how to run our businesses and where we could go to school, and that they were in kahoots with a bias, national media with a racial agenda to help pointy headed liberals concentrate all effective power in the central government in washington. now, if any of that is familiar to you in contemporary politics, i submit to you that those phrases were invented by one of the great geniuses in modern politics and concentrated, and they were george wallace. on top of that, wallace had another part of his genius. he insisted in public that he
had never made a single comment in his public career that reflected poorly on anyone because of race. he would get indignant if you suggested that. that's part of the formula. a room full of unconscious to the power of race in our society makes us blind slowly, so slowly and so pervasively that now i think it's totally unconscious. people just repeat those phrases because they are normal, and they are normal from the right and they are normal from the left. people don't understand how much the left has contributed to the same modern cynicism that does not take credit for the sense of capacity we should have that if we could tackle all the problems in the 60s and let lose this liberation that benefits everyone at such low social cost, if we recover our sense of confidence andceps of commitment
and struggle to reach across the line, that was the essence of the movement, the essence of martin luther king day, get outside the comfort zone, what people in the movement do, let your knees shake, reach across the lines, take a chance to create a movement. that's what a movement is. it starts with small that's a small inspiration and grows into history when you discover the power between you. george wallace is the opposite of that. take council of your fears and resentment, and essentially, adopt a cynical and blind attitude towards the possibilities of democracy. cynicism is an appetite, not a judgment, not a measured judgment. democracy requires measured judgment, informed citizens willing to take responsibility. cynicism creates consumers who complain and have low expectations and have a very low
sense of citizenship. in that sense, i think we're out of phase with what ought to be a great optimistic sense of if we could have done that in the 60s, now we have a lot of serious problems with it with an economy stripped of its industrial base, facing international competition. we have environmental problems, justice problems, family problems, all of these, but where is our sense of confidence that we can tackle these together, and that our strength is in the bonds we create across the bonds that divide us. that's the essence of patriotism. that's what democracy is. that's what george washington was doing, and in a sense, what martin luther king and the movement were doing, confronting systems that denied people their natural strength that benefit everyone and subject people that
increased the economy and the ties that bind and our comfort to sit here tonight. we need to do it again, and nrd to do that, we have to have a better sense of our history because our history is not just about where people salt -- sat on the bus in a quaint, distant era. the history is about our future and what tools we'll use, what memories we'll use, and what risks we're willing to take to build strength across lines that divide us. it's not new that we misremember history where race relations are involved. i think we should be ashamed of doing it on the left and the right that we don't do it, and if you're interested in why of the different contributions, i mentioned george wallace. i can also, the people in the civil rights movement turned against a lot of their own example. number one, nonviolence.
nonviolence was unpopular among people in the civil rights movement. the most powerful idea was the first one that was abandon, and there's the lot of others, religion. the left turned against religion. when it was half of the movement's inspiration and half of the dr. king's magnificent formula of equal souls, equal votes, one foot in the scripture, one foot in the constitution, and next thing you know, people turn against the spiritual base of democracy. we misremembered the civil war for a century. when i was growing up in atlanta, my textbook said the civil war had nothing to do with slavery, and we got a lot of sentimental gone with the wind, and to this day, there are textbooks in history that refer to the political movement that overthrew the reconstruction governments after the civil war and restored white sprem sigh in
the south and paid the way for segregation, refer to the -- the textbooks refer to that movement as the redeemers. the redeemers redeemed the south, a religious word that in reality was accomplished by terror, terrorism as much as the terrorism that plagues the world we're attuned to when it's not among us. it turned -- race has the power of turning our sense of perception upside down, and that's the terrible thing. it also can turn our politics upside down. one of the chapters in my 18 short thing, two chapters together in 1964 that in 1964 there was a democratic convention and republican convention. the republicans were first. the republicans were the party of lincoln, meeting in san fransisco. they normally had over 20% of
their delegates -- not quite 20%, were african-american, of daddy king's generation, the black and tan republicans. 1964, they expelled virtually all of them. they only had 13 delegates. they kicked them all out. barry goldwater met with two waters, william renquist and bark announcing to vote against the civil rights act of 1964, not for civil rights uses, but against other rights, and the first republicans sprang up on a ground i didn't know republicans growing up. republicans were yankees, and, you know, scarce as polar bears other than judges who believed in the two party system that didn't exist. we had solid south democrats. the next thing -- there was not one single member of the house of representatives from the republican party from texas -- really from new mexico, except
for george bush, the elder, to the atlantic ocean, not one. in that same year, but they sprang up then, and not only to dominate a brand new southern republican party, but to dominate the national republican party along the lines of those language that george wallace invented and handed over to them. that same year, lyndon johnson met in atlantic city, and in the chapter i have here, had secretly, and, to me, it's amazing this is not more news. i've written it detailed as i can. he had a nervous breakdown because he's trying to have two little delegates from mississippi and to seat all of the regular white democrats from mississippi who were publicly pledged to vote for goldwater. the democratic delegates were pledged to vote for goldwater, and most of them started switching parties
instandpointly, but he wanted to seat them anyway. the mississippi freedom democrats, they walked out because they didn't think it was fair. carl sanders, in one of the conversations, you can hear, and john conley, called lyndon johnson saying if you let those two symbolic seats there, the whole south will walk out of this convention because you will be turning the democratic party over to the negroes and letting martin luther king decide who can be a democrat. johnson almost has a breakdown on the phone there, and he basically went to bed for several days saying i'm going to quit, i can't handle this. i'm trying to turn the democratic party slowly towards a party that will represent the people, and he told carl sanders, he said, you and i cannot survive in our modern life, virtual exact quote, you and i cannot survive in our
modern political life eating these folks for breakfast to win elections. we got to let them vote. we got to let them eat. we got to let them shave. these folks don't do it. he thought he was going to quit. if i'm no good in the south, and what good am i? i passed the bill, and it looks like i can't do anything. what i'm saying is that race without any public acknowledgement then or largely in history dead turned the partisan structure of the united states upside down in one summer. it's still that way, and it's still not talked about. , what i'm saying is that what i've learned from studying this movement all this time against my will because its power dragged me into it, and i'm sure
glad it did, is that from frederick douglass to martin luther king to barack obama today, that magnificent progress that's gone forward. it changes. we're more accepting. we have blessings. we have a black man in the white house, but the acceptance in public culture of barack obama by the millions of white people who voted for him is still largely on their terms, not his. it's the people on the other side who are forced to accommodate across the lines, forced always, black folks have had the -- it's not a choice and luxury to deal with race including barack obama who can't talk about race right now because if he does, the people who voted for him will find some reason to say he's everyone sides -- emphasizing it too much. we are still on hooks about it. race is still there.
it is vital we get the sense of history more in line with what actually happened so that we can restore our confidence and of the capacities of government to move forward, and i'm not saying it's going to be easy, but i think that it's beginning to happen. we have five years of anniversaries of things that are great blessings, not just for black people, but white americans, and, indeed, the whole world sharing in the democracy. if we understand what is this doing, and it is a vital task for us to do it, but it doesn't happen automatically. it begins with every citizen. the great thing about the civil rights movement is that it shows that the promise of democracy comes with a citizenry, a movement as it were, not spin, the watch word thenfuls "movement," meant you are moving somewhere, and the watch word today is "spin," and when that happens, the elected
representatives respond, whether they want to or not, and sometimes they inspire you the way they respond, but you need both things coming together, and in order to do that, you have to have a sense of history. that's where citizenship comes, and that's why i'm up here with this short little book, 18 moments, i just mentioned one, those two conventions, one chapter on the two conventions in 1964, a fulcrum of history. let me stop. i said i was going to be short, and i was longer than i wanted to be. there are plenty of questions about this because i'm trying to lay out something in a very, very broad scale about a novel experiment to address something that i think is coming up in the next five years. we're either going to come out of this dull drum, out of this unconsciousness trap that we're in. we painted ourselves into a corner so that lots of people
believe that what protects their freedom is the shot give up in their closet and not the ties that bind us together throughout the course of the great rise of american democracy, and it's not true in history. it could be true, and it is important against tyranny, but it's important and more important to stretch yourself to understand the true promise of our history because it's not obvious. it's not easy for anybody, and for some of us, we have a proven record of being unconscious to many of the things that are most inspiring. i count myself privilege to spend my life working on it. i commend it to you. let me stop there and take any questions you may have. thank you to the history center for having me. [applause] >> please come to the
microphone. [applause] >> thank you, enjoyed that. i'm curious to get your perspective. one area that evolved since the civil rightings is we have, in this last election has shown, we've become a majority, minority nation. you have a country where not only do you have different people from different ethnic groups, but blended babies that have come to the nation. you have an african-american president. you also have a president who i think gave a good speech yesterday, optimistic about the future, that touched on the area of looking at our gay brothers and sisters ensuring they have the same opportunities as everyone else. in the younger generation you are targeting, this is the world they group up in. they have not seen the lessons of the 60s. what lessons are in the book you
want to transform and give them to take and evolve as good american citizens, that you're trying to bring across? >> well, that is a very good question. i think you'll find one of the lessons that there's many kinds of leadership. as i said, dr. king said he was behind the students. he was at two -- really, three of the 18 chapters there about bob moses. a lot of people don't know about him, but he's almost a model of whereas dr. king is like moses, you know, the law giver, the follow me, standing up there on top of the motes, bob moses is the anti-moses, very quiet, mystical, the grassroots person and says we need lots of leaders, and i want to follow you, but i'm willing to go up to the courthouse even if we're both going to get beaten and arrested and jailed. there are a lot of models of
leadership. one thing is on its face, people today need to know that people their age were leaders in serious problems. in the 1960s. the race issue was so great that most adults in that period opposed that they had it under control, but, really, it was a total fake, and people were perplexed by what to do. if you talked about looking a problem in the eye and figuring out what to do, most of the adult leadership in the 1960s was looking at it maybe in the shins. certainly not in the eye. these kids were leaders so the fact that you can have kids step forward, you never know when your trusting moment is going to be is one of many lessons. the first chapter of this book,
i spent lots and lots of time trying to figure out how to begin, and i began with dr. king's first speech on the monday after the busboy cot coming home saying i can't eat dinner because these folks made me head of the protest committee because he didn't -- they didn't expect it to do anything, and they were going to pip it on the young guy in town, and he had to decide what to say, and he couldn't have din eric and he walked in there, totally unprepared, most of the people are strangers to him. he didn't know them. he was new to the community. he was only 26 years old. you hear him in the speech, and i try to recreate it, stumbling around to make a connection to an audience he doesn't know. when he does make a connection, you can hear it. i mean, i believe if you go to the king center and listen to the tape, if they'll let you do
it, i hope they will because it exists, and you can hear the moment in which strangers responded to the things that he was trying to say in a way that became a wave, and a communion emerged between them that made an audience forever a public person, and it is a movement in the sense of where a movement starts. nobody had any sense that that was historic and that it was going to grow up into the selma march where you feel the voting rights act being born. that's when a movement is literally his toric so i would say that the lesson is young people can be important, movements are complex things that involve internal struggle and people arguing and in conflict with themselves in reaching outside themselves about what's really important to them, and that the history of the movement shows that adults,
too, can change, and that when they -- i would say robert kennedy is a primary example of that. somebody who not really studied that much today, but if you look at him over the course of his career, what liberated him and turned him from a hard nosed cold war politician was race, somebody who could go in to sharecroppers, shacks in nighs and sit down with malnourished babies on his knee and talk about what they were eating and talk about hunger. that was a trueness -- transformation in people like him. people can change, and there's many doorways of doing it, but in the u.s. history, the chief doorway for the founders change has been when people go through, across the barriers of race. that's the great lesson of the movement because good things
happen when you do. anybody else? >> about some of the mismemory of alabama and when george wallace was making those proclamations in 63 # down in mobile, alabama, springfield college was desegregated since 1954, and the change in my life came from that class of 1954. i know i'm telling my age, but when i voted or for the first time, i had to pay poll tax. somehow, i lost that receipt over the years, and that really hurts me, but i think my change came, and, of course, it was a
catholic school, people asked me, how did you feel? i said, well, i felt like any other freshmen going to school, more involved in what i was going to wear and what i was going to do, but i remember every african-american who was in my class, and there were not many. let's be honest, and they were hand picked, but the school has grown, and so my change started in alabama, and, again, i remember a picture of george wallace on the front cover of the "new yorker" magazine, and he was dressed like the statue of liberty. [laughter] it said, "red necks in new york." [laughter] >> yes --
[applause] >> yes, there were plenty of them, yes. yes, sir? >> i appreciate your work. it's really wonderful. i'm sad to hear it has to be condensed, but i appreciate you doing that. i'd like to hear the thoughts of harding wrote a book called "king, an inconvenient hero," i want to hear your thoughts, especially with the mismemory of dr. king, they are now full page ads in all the papers on king week by the corporations and such. i'm wondering how much dr. king was sanitized, how much we have to remember what you've been talking about. i'd be interested in hearing what you think dr. king would think of us at this point and where we are and what we'd be doing as a culture, and where we might should go. >> be realistic. every iconic figure in history is sanitized to a degree. george washington, abe lincoln, all of them are. it's not a crime to sanitize dr. king, but it is -- the
danger is when you -- when people unconsciously sanitize him to make him more comfortable to them. if that's what you want -- i have lots -- and lottings of people, everywhere i go say, i can prove from dr. king's "i have a dream" speech; that we shouldn't talk about race today, just character. the content of character, and i say that is absolutely right, sir, if you are making the same efforts that dr. king made every day of his life to reach across the boundaries that divided people so that he could see character, that he was willing to go into the southern baptist seminary where they voted not to hear his speech and talk to people who loathed him to try to have a message out there and try to get to their character across those lines. if you make those efforts and you're talking about character, you will understand the meaning of race, and you won't need to talk about it so much, but to say that blindly that i'm only
the bed rock announcement or agreement of americans is people who can't stand george bush and can't stand barack obama are going to respect close enough to allow those to go forward and that the nation many other countries including the ones in the headlines yesterday and the ones that will be in the headlines tomorrow people don't do that. that is why so much of the world is in flames. >> a sense of stark reality if america doesn't reclaim that sense of history. if that doesn't happen what do you foresee the next several years as the future of america evolve in the changing
demographic? >> sometimes it takes catastrophes to get people, the civil war is as big a catastrophe as you could ask for. a century of segregation, and not remembering that history. and confidence and sense of faith in one another, a number of problems of social disintegration, how to adapt economically in a globally interdependent world that could cause all kinds of social dislocation in the united states. i hope -- that is the great thing about it, one reason we should be so grateful to dr. king and not see him as a leader for black folks the leader of fairness and dealing with the
most troublesome problems we have. if we do that we have a chance to address these problems before they become acute, before they become -- terrible social dislocation. these are very serious issues. the health of a democracy and capacity of people, it is no joke we set around and say we are totally dysfunctional. some of that comes out of the culture. if we are all well to sleep, about politics and don't see that politics start with you and me and what we are going to do and who we are going to talk to tomorrow and how far we are going to reach to figure out how we can address any one of those serious problems that threaten the country, we can risk social dislocation that could be catastrophic. i don't care whether you are
talking the environment, economy, education, health, the prison system, the justice system. we have a large number, the ngo movement, non-governmental organization, public interest movement is wide and diverse but don't relate to this 50 years ago. what it doesn't have is a cohesive sense that they are working on related problems that ought to create a sense of movement that we are indebted to our history if our history were more accurate. i think history is about the future and the future is -- if the future is dangerous, then it will be less dangerous and more hopeful with a better sense we have of our history. but i am a historian. i guess you could expect me to say that. i am trying to put it in a
different way. >> i want to thank you for the wonderful work you are doing. i have grandchildren i definitely want to share it with. my question is about another age group. as i look around this room, i see a number of white males of a certain age who probably lived through much of the times you are talking about at some level or another. i am curious to know what is the response to your work from d. smith? >> white males? >> white males primarily or of that generation. >> the ones who come and talk to me, pretty darn good. but i don't know how big a sample that is of the larger population. to some degree i am preaching to the choir. i will say some of my personally
-- doing this work puts me largely in the black community for the research. the time that i interact with white people is when the books are out. i will say that -- not exclusively. this is a cross-cultural history and i had to interview as many people in lyndon johnson's administration as i did around martin luther king but when the books come out and i try to talk to people and anyone who has read it my most inspirational responses have been from older white men, women are better quite frankly. [laughter and applause] >> when you get something from a white man, for that reason all
the more it is -- the movement was basically run by women as long as there wasn't a microphone. that is a truism of history and to some degree it is still true. i don't know how folks survive the digital age when men could do a lot of stuff just with their computers. they don't have to go out and set the table. >> you are about to hear something from a white man. before you leave, before you leave please come down here. i would like to answer your question because i was a young man in my 30s during the civil rights movement and one of the most shameful things that i feel is that i kept my mouth shut.
i think i am not unique in this group. there was an intellectual debate that went on discussing america and the issue of property rights versus civil rights and it was a heated debate within among my friends but i want you to know that i am ashamed. [applause] >> thank you, sir, thank you. two questions rolled into one.
thanks for your talk today. it opened my mind in a number of ways as a teacher and a historian. on the one hand you talk about the unconsciousness, i love that, and it begs the idea of w. e. b. du bois when he talks about raise as the major challenge of the 20th century. i would like you to reflect on what your team has been today, this whole idea of raise in the twenty-first century. my second question has to do more with your book, the 18 chapters, how do you get to that? did you say i am going to do 18? or it came out to be 18? you refer to that and i see it
in the book. >> to answer the second part, i didn't have 18 in mind. i just wanted to pick out, i wanted to pick out the ones that i thought were essentials to communicate the sweep of it, not all the particulars. nobody said i am sorry you had to abbreviate or make it compact. the other books are not going anywhere. they are still there. i am hoping some small portion of the people who are introduced will want to know more about it. and go not just to my books but lots and lots of books, ones that are slated, it is a whole universe, largely uncovered by hollywood because hollywood and i know this from 25 bitter years trying to get any of these stories made into films. they want to show, they are afraid of showing anything that
will make the raise doubt they are on the right side and therefore they can't show the people in the movement themselves in conflict and that is what is real and so they don't do it and these things are very hard. i wound up with 18 simply because that was the stand. as i said i would say martin luther king, the first chapters about him and the last chapter is about him being killed but the 16 in between, maybe half of them are mostly about him and other people, the freedom ride is the only event that has two chapters and it is that significant because the freedom ride, a movement starts small, and it grows in scope and definition but mostly in the identity, the way people think of themselves.
the freedom ride were young people literally expanding the scope of the movement from something that was campus based and everyone thought it was something when they were getting their degrees and by the end, it was people said this is what i do and i am involved with anybody in the united states who went on the freedom ride and came in to jail and i am willing to go anywhere so in so many respects expanded so i have two stories about the freedom ride, matched by and large with the most over -- central thing in that period, it came out that the stories turned out to be 18 and when i did it i thought i could boil down the gist of it to give people a sense of it.
you cannot do this 400, let's see if you can do it under 300 and i am very proud of this. i did it in under 200. [applause] >> i wanted to go the extra mile on the chance that what i am hoping is to have people say wow, we are so out of phase, we feel good about what we can do, why do we -- politics are paralyzed and we don't talk more about raise. i forgot what you said at the beginning. the problem with the twenty-first century is it didn't go away. just like my three books didn't go away. i don't think it is as central. when he spoke remember, the
world was still colonized. most of the world was colonized at that time and literally owned by the european nations and our only claim to fame was we said we didn't want to have an empire but we were growing into a superpower. we got a pass. in that sense it really did make raise through colonization and raise because of segregation in the united states, a global problem. we are still dealing, there's a lot of truth in the one who said the world is still paying in terror and pain and dislocation today or any place in the world that a british or french diplomat drew a whine on a map at the end of the nineteenth century whether it was creating a rock -